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Calculi (shown in cross-section) come in a variety of shapes and sizes - making removal complicated and unpredictable. Frontispiece, Kelly and Burnam's Diseases of the Kidney, Ureter & Bladder, 1914. Courtesy of The Johns Hopkins University
Leaving No Stone Untreated: Stone Sufferers No Longer Limited to Surgery

The practice of lithotomy—or cutting for the stone—dates back to antiquity and appears in records from societies such as the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Persians and Egyptians. The Hippocratic Oath, which appears in the 5th century B.C., even makes mention of the practice as it separates physicians from surgeons. "I will not cut," reads the medical mantra, "I will not cut, not even sufferers from stone, but I will give place to workmen who engage in this practice."

In the Middle Ages, despite the fact that physicians adhered to the oath and did not "cut for the stone," lithotomy flourished. No one ever needed mercy quite like a stone sufferer facing a lithotomist's knife. As if the substitution of anesthesia and antiseptic surgery for ropes and opium weren't enough, factor in an often poorly trained itinerant practitioner and the fact that the surgery was often done in a public setting—and the pain and humiliation of the patient are clear, as are the lengths a patient would go to receive treatment for this often-painful condition.

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